Ableton Live & Max For Live – Integrating hardware

I’ve been spending some time recently creating Max For Live controllers for all my hardware. The beauty of this is you can program a dedicated editor, with patch browsing, in whatever configuration suits you and have all parameters available for automation within Live. It means you can forget about what midi controller number does what on your synth and concentrate on making music.

Above, you can see my controller for the DSI Evolver. There’s a fair amount of controls here, oscillator functions, filters, envelopes and delays. All the knobs spit out the correct midi control numbers for that parameter. Underneath the Amp Envelope settings you can see the program change functions. I can select any patch from the four internal banks and click up/down to audition successive patches. Because of the way Max integrates with Live, I can even midi learn the up/down buttons and use a midi controller to skip through patches. As my Evolver isn’t directly infront of me when I’m at the computer, this is a real time-saver.

The down side, if there is one, is that Ableton Live cannot process sysex. This limits the number of controls and devices you can control in this manner as a lot of hardware can only be controller using sysex. In the case of the Evolver, there are many more controls which cannot be accessed using conventional midi control changes, so a larger ‘all inclusive’ Max For Live controller isn’t possible. Generally though, manufacturers make the most common parameters available via midi control change so there is still plenty that can be done.


The next logical step is to create a rack containing the controller, along with an External Instrument device. The Live External Instrument device is amazingly useful if you have multiple inputs on your soundcard. With my Evolver hooked up to a dedicated pair of inputs on my soundcard, the External Instrument device allows me to specify which midi port and channel the Evolver is attached to, as well as which inputs to use on the soundcard. Once the rack is saved this means I never have to worry about routing midi and audio when I want to use my Evolver. I simply drag the saved rack to an empty midi track, and my dedicated controller is there along with all the midi and audio routing. Ready to go!

If you look closely at the rack picture you’ll also see an Arpeggiator device in the rack. The point here is that the rack can contain any midi or audio processing plugin. I could put a limiter after the External Audio plugin to stop any scary peaks getting through to my speakers, or a midi Scale device to always force my Evolver to play in a selected scale. Once the rack chain is decided, using an external synth like this is as easy as adding a software plugin. All the configuration is done, you just drag and drop a preset to an empty midi track and start browsing patches.

Update 19/04/2011
For all those interested in downloading the Evolver controller. Here it is. It’s still not 100% finished due to other commitments. All that is missing is some controls needs Inspector parameters adjusting to allow automation in Live. Should be easy enough to do if you have a spare hour (I don’t!).

Download the Evolver Max For Live controller

Update 10/07/2011

A few people have asked about specifics of putting together the Max for Live devices. I’m not going to go into detail on this blog, but I did write an article in Sound on Sound magazine which went into more detail. It was published in the April 2011 edition, or you can get the article on esub here for a reasonable 99p.

15 thoughts on “Ableton Live & Max For Live – Integrating hardware

  1. Looks awesome! I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile now. Can’t wait until you upload it so I can try it out. Will you be posting it here or on

  2. Hey Carl,

    I’ll put the Evolver controller up here and on in the next couple of weeks I guess. I’m working on some others but they might take longer.


  3. hey man, been looking for this for a while, would love to make it, but not good anuff at max yet, is it ready yet, can i give it a go, beta testing…?


  4. Any links for tutorials on making m4l patches like this? I’d like to make one for my ATC-1. I have no prior max knowledge tho so as nooby as poss would be good.

  5. Wheely – I’m so sorry. I know you’ve been waiting patiently. Work has been a little crazy lately so I’ve had no time to spend on this. If you contact me privately ( rory at rozzer dot net ), I can send you a working, but incomplete version.

  6. Wes – After writing this blog post, I did an article for Sound on Sound magazine which detailed exactly how to put these controller devices together. I’d suggest hunting down a copy, it was published in the April 2001 edition. You can also buy it on esub here:

  7. Can Live receive/record data from the Evolver knobs? The knobs only send sysex…so I’m assuming you can’t capture knob movements, control other devices with them, etc…?

  8. Thank you for every other informative web site. The place else may I get that type of info written in such
    a perfect method? I’ve a venture that I am just now working on, and I’ve
    been at the look out for such info.

  9. I tried your device but it doesn’t work. The only parameters that change on my evolver desktop are program number and banks.
    I use Ableton live 8 and Max/Msp 5 with Mac osx Snow Leopard.

    I tried also your sequencer device and it works.

    1. Hey filaster,

      Sorry for the late reply. Have you got MIDI Control set to ON in the Evolver’s preferences? If it’s OFF it won’t respond to MIDI control changes.

      – Rory

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *